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"The Everything," short story excerpt

Wednesday 2/2/22

My brother and I drank whisky in galumphing rhythm sitting on the floor in the attic of our mother’s house where we used to sneak away and smoke pot, though the sneaking part never made much sense, given that she was out on one of her dates and couldn’t bust us, save in spirit. We were trying to figure out who would give the eulogy.

“I’ll do the eulogy if you clean out the house,” I said to Phil, which we both knew was out of the question, given that the job was going to take multiple people long enough. “Girls are better at these things anyway.”

He pulled a drink from the bottle of Scotch—Ardbeg, which is high class, as Phil had become one of those men you looked back on and wondered how they’d been the boy they were, and then it added up—and passed it to me.

“What makes you say that?”

My head was swirling, but I felt anchored in that place that had once been my house, though I hadn’t thought of it that way in a long time.

“We can just open up. It’s more natural. Comes easier to us.”

I didn’t want my brother thinking I was trying to be a hero.

Phil took the bottle and put it between us. I know what he was thinking. Well, the two things he was thinking. You’re not supposed to drink high-grade whisky like it’s water from a canteen out on the dusty trail. And seeing which of us would fall over first wasn’t the best way to determine who’d speak at our mother’s funera.

There were milk cartons all around, filled with old records, and my mom’s wedding dress on a hanger under plastic, which I kept thinking was a person, or the outer shelf of one, with an ability to report to someone else what we were saying. A plastic spy in the overall seeping schema and mood of brush and bramble that comes with any attic, but more so, I felt, with ours.

We used to love those records. Jefferson Airplane, Creedence, the Beach Boys’ Friends and Wild Honey. When I’m with my kids, and they say they like a kind of music I like, I always wonder if that would have been true had I never played them the music my mom used to play me and Phil. Then you’re a different person.

I didn’t know what I’d say, if I had to give the eulogy. Girls weren’t really better at it. That’s what you say to your brother when you love him and he did a lot for you. You think in terms of how you might spare someone. If white lies are for anything, it’s probably that.

“Did you hate her?” Phil asked me, while I stared at the bottle, as though there were a mouth embedded in its side waiting to open and speak words of guidance, unsure how we’d gone through so much of the alcohol in what couldn’t have been an hour, though time was always uncanny and elastic in this attic, laden with its loopholes.

It’s where my rabbit Clifton died, after my mom punished me for shoplifting cigarettes and a Cure album by stashing his cage up here, and then forgetting about it, if she did forget. She said she gave him away, but by then I didn’t trust her about anything, even the ways she tried to hurt me. When I found Clifton, I actually hoped he’d frozen to death—because the attic was pure draft, not much different than being outside in winter—rather than died of thirst, since I thought he would have suffered less, but then again, he was a rabbit. I hated myself for letting the attic be the one place I didn’t check. That I had allowed it to remain uncombed because in an attic of my own person, a cavity of myself, the actual attic upstairs represented safety, sanctity, the hideaway in the box canyon, which now had a yonic note. Tinge of pussy, as one of my girlfriends Lanie said when we were all drinking at a bonfire, and she jokingly smelled the fingers of her boyfriend Dwight, with whom she’d just come back from sneaking off. But pussy can mean so many things.

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